Claim to fame: Beltre just finished the second-best season of his 13-year career, batting .321 with 28 home runs and 108 RBI for the Red Sox. Now, it looks like, similar to his 2004 career year when he hit .334 with 48 home runs and 121 RBI for the Dodgers and thereupon signed a lucrative deal with the Mariners, Beltre will cash in. ESPN reported Monday evening that the unrestricted free agent was on the verge of signing a six-year, $90 million contract with the Rangers. If this goes through, his Hall of Fame case could get a lot more interesting.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Beltre is an active player and cannot be considered for enshrinement until five years after he retires.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I know, this might sound crazy. Right now, Beltre is a lifetime .275 hitter with a career OPS+ of 108 and just one All Star appearance (though his 10.2 career defensive WAR suggests he may have deserved more than two Gold Gloves.) Until this time, Beltre has been mostly known as a maddeningly talented third baseman with a penchant for putting up MVP-caliber numbers in contract years and hitting about .270 in between.
Here’s where I see Beltre having a shot at Cooperstown: As of now, he’s played home games 12 of his 13 seasons at Dodger Stadium and Safeco Field, two pitchers’ parks if there ever were them. The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is not this way. It is the Horse Whisperer for troubled hitters. It made a superstar out of Josh Hamilton. It made Milton Bradley look, well, normal. We just saw what Beltre was capable of playing one year at Fenway. Imagine what he could do the next five or ten years batting next to Hamilton.
Already, Beltre has looked like someone who was going to present a statistical dilemma for voters. Having debuted in the majors at 19, he’ll turn 32 at the beginning of this season, and barring injury, Beltre should have a chance at two stats that typically ensure enshrinement: 3,000 hits (he’s at 1,889 right now) and 500 home runs. The latter feat would be trickier, since Beltre currently has 278 home runs and would need to up his yearly averages by five or ten homers. Still, with Texas, this might happen. Regardless, there’s never been an eligible player with 3,000 hits who didn’t ultimately get into Cooperstown.
(Side note: Beltre’s page on Baseball-Reference.com says he’s most similar, by age, to Ron Santo who recently finished tied for second in this Web site’s poll of the 50 greatest players not in Cooperstown. Just think if Santo had gotten a chance at 32 to play out his career in Texas during an era that favored hitters. No way he’d still be on the fence for the Hall of Fame.)
Of course, if Beltre played his full career in Los Angeles and Seattle, I don’t know if he’d have any real hopes for Cooperstown. I wonder if voters will look askance at Ranger hitters as a latter generation of voters did with great sluggers from the 1930s, keeping Chuck Klein and Johnny Mize from their plaques for decades. Generally, though, it’s numbers that ultimately talk and trump context. Even if Beltre brings the same abilities to the Rangers he’s had for the last 13 years, and his stats are the only thing that change, that may be enough for enshrinement. Is that right? I dunno.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.
Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Larry Walker, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark